Anthony Howell‘s poem, ‘Envelopes’, is inspired by the life and work of Mark Lombardi, an American neo-conceptual artist who specialized in drawings that document alleged financial and political frauds by power brokers, government agencies and organised crime, thus mapping abuses of control. His suicide by hanging is disputed.
Mark Lombardi (1961-2000)
Anthony has supplied the following introduction to his poem:
Perhaps the reader’s appreciation of this poem might be enhanced by some discourse around it. Aphrodite – goddess of Beauty, not Love – was the wife of Hephaistos, the blacksmith and arms-dealer to the gods. In her book Interlock – Art, Conspiracy, and the Shadow Worlds of Mark Lombardi (Counterpoint, Berkley 2015) Patricia Goldstone argues that the global web of corruption and terror that Lombardi delineates graphically is akin to a rhizome in the sense that it does not have a single head, but like a rhizomatic tuber that can sprout from any separated section a new node of instigation can spring up anywhere.
My poem’s construction has been rhizomic rather than arboreal in the sense that it did not grow from a single acorn. Rather it grew from a month’s worth of fragments culled from the language used by podcasters and commentators on current affairs. These fragments were then randomly collaged together, and, as the poem evolved, they sprouted on their own, via the process of honing the lines, that is, they somehow grew together into verses which are narrative – though just word-play at the same time – so the poem is as meaningful as it is abstract, and vice versa. I am pleased with it, but at the same time I might be the only person in the world who can ever be pleased with it. I guess I am nostalgic for when poetry was an intellectual pursuit rather than some earnest quest for empathy. In my school days my friend Nick Lafitte (whose poems I edited for the Many Press, years ago) was writing seriously brainy poems. Nick committed suicide in his twenties. We worshipped Empson and Madge and Wallace Stevens. But ‘difficult’ poetry seems out of fashion. Not that I give a monkeys.
Anthony Howell, August 2022
To push the envelope derives from early supersonic use,
Referring to constraints you don’t exceed with safety.
Ask of Mark Lombardi where was his off-ramp.
A bail-out by his Texan heiress? Elegance gone lefty.
From a censored ‘other side’, warblers in camouflage,
Witch birds or ghost birds, hid within their habitats,
Tweet or leak less popular interpretations of our acts;
But watch for those East Europe gals: Nazi-types but tasty.
Cold war. Soft war. Fat war. Thin war
Tic-toked from the Emirates’ city-dangling cable-car,
That counter-offensive proves largely a mirage.
But who around here disputes the force-fed optics?
Keen to push their envelope, unelected leaders rant
About how, if their team loses to a phrase initially
Limited to space flight, it will be harder to argue
For democracy as a sound system of government.
But that’s the venture thrill of firepower sponsorship.
Viz. to surpass normal limits and bring off a bet
Viewed as radical or risky. Capital, Progress and War.
A miracle by Jesus with some arms attached to it,
As quips Larry Johnson when another sortie leads to sure
Obliteration, brushing matters back to the false
Cross of propaganda dreamt up by the Vatican.
Fatalities increased by their anti-retreat force
Weighed against the lure of mission creep.
Envelope is such a pregnant word. Our Jingoists keep
Pushing theirs – should it burst all hell breaks out –
And what you sow as surely shall ye reap.
Was Lombardi pushing his after its initial usage
Spread to each edgy pursuit, finally to find its way
Into his boundary-shift activity? Item how Duchamp
Pushed it with a urinal, back in the modernists’ day.
Five eyes crown our intelligence machine.
Where does machinery end, intelligence begin?
In some Haut de la Garenne where the Clodes meet Gwythian Prins…
Backers of black ops, marketeers of hypersonic luxury;
A leader’s limousine developed by the same
Group as makes his battle tanks. Or think Rolls-Royce
Or some wonder weapon touted, with its fancy tote-bag:
Pounder fit for Belgorad, or where they shape the battlefield,
Reducing the brigades, hunting down each target, wall by
Blessed wall. Those five eyes. We know their code word
Is Versailles. Zoroaster cognates Friesian antecedents
Ever since the great flood. Armament demands a Spartan policy.
But armament is an appealing, power-indulging industry.
Hephaistos found the time to weave that sumptuous net of gold
In which he caught his wife with Aries. Envelope
That fitted snug. Perhaps his wife was in on it…
Whereas Kashoggi Junior needed to be hacked to bits
In order to be fitted into his. Graft seduces hope and fear,
Making it a threesome, as he told Der Spiegel.
Let us all jerk off to our ‘copters circling the turf
And banish from our minds the collapse of what
Took things away, the noble sewage disposal conduit
Perfect for our mop-up corps – as directed by the first
Post-Modern PM; not, as dictatorial types may go,
Much of a player in this affair, unlike the vulnerable Beard.
Again, it’s the optics, stupid. That and gold and London Brent.
We’re not equipped, we’ve not the Stik, so to speak,
To counter those thermobarbaric – no, Joe, get it right.
Thermobaric rockets. Looks like combat has moved on
Since Sir Philip Sidney’s time. Consummate courtier, yes,
But no Nelson, his was a flashy and unnecessary death,
Only one year shy of the Tudors-under-thirty club.
It takes twenty-one defensive darts to halt a single Zircon
In its tracks. Forget fresh air. Grieve for the shadow
Before you, muddled by the shadows of leaves and the breeze
Which is beyond the launch capabilities of the Aegus Ships
Serving as escorts – flouncing over some ocean to the East
In the Navy’s most dramatic bellicose formation.
Yes, it’s the Carrier Battle Group. Walk away from the war,
And you become fixated on the problems of your own career.
There is the reality of conflict. There is a contest of illusions
For your soul. And there is doom porn to deal with and
The journo who says it’s other journos use the boot on him the most.
It’s like the poets diss your zone for all the dulcet use of tone:
The taciturn, derelict hinterland of a spider town
On a web it has spun that it would take more than a few
Thermobarics to obliterate, our post-modern cox
Asserts reassuringly. Ah, but the Rohingya face abyss.
The Sunnis loathe the Shia since Asunder Land’s
The object since Korea. Rejecting all divergence from their plan,
By secret ballot blackballing the RAND, our deep ones carry on
Marketing aggressive kit – rewarded, and informed.
So for a spell it’s best that you forgo the here and now.
It’s not as if you haven’t paid a visit there before
And found yourself again in the same frustrating pit,
Which is a bore, and yet, beware. In the ‘way back when’
And in your imaginary ‘after’, interest enslaves you and supports
Spyware while many of your worst nightmares have been or
Are being realised somewhere. Maybe in Sutton Coldfield or
In Severodanask. Sure, there are bougies in tower-block enclaves,
But they’re just lambs to the slaughter authorised by the hawks
At the Brookings Institute, according to Bloomberg;
They’re buying off cartels with a price-crime pipe-lining Asia
At an all-time high as Bobby Azarian cuts down on his shower-time.
Here, the glaring issue isn’t speed, so weigh up the attractors,
Plus the fictive states of stability. You can pre-order your javelin
At GM’s man-portable systems or try the Fire-and-Forget
Anti-tank missile any girl can guide towards her rival.
It was designed to defeat heavily-armoured peccadilloes,
With Aphrodite leaning from the cockpit of her turret
While lighter-skinned military come rolling in her wake
Along with her stylist, her publicist, her soda-jerk.
We go in with whatever we can field. Just dismiss our losses as
A visual Tinnitus irritating screens. They brush off
The weapon which also has capability against other cups of tea,
Taboo except when searched for on the dark.
Boudoirs, barracks, combat detox centres, not to mention
Bunkers and bolt-holes, all for thirty-thousand USD,
And no questions asked of the dark, as snug beneath official domes
We’re busy taking upskirts of human calculators
Chalking up the numbers they’re assiduously crunching
On the catwalks raised to reach enormous survey boards
In some vintage conflict. Beauty a vivandière
Before Joan of Arc raised the fleur-de-lys as standard.
Now she projects her hologram onto the night, as the stenographic
Crew for the Western Empire seeks to avoid all interlocks
And connections, interdicting link analysis, meta-data;
Shooting off both feet instead, then seeking to impose
Restrictions as to where to tread among the gong farmers
Ratteners and gaudy dancers with no cognisance of anything this deep.
Hollywood plots have their cake and eat it days,
As is the case with coverage of Tom Cruise in Wonderland
Aiming at some looking-glass with a lack of parity
In netcentric warfare. Should you meet a stinger, use a dock.
No thirty-million package of Berkian conservatism’s
Gonna wrest control back from the Wing.
What links data to skirmish experience is a paradigm on leverage
For informational dominance over glory hounds
But words can go no further at this point. Self-interest
And ignorance overwhelm the portals. Riot bucks authority.
And so you look after your base, as did Merrick Garland
In the Oklahoma cover-up. No armchair warlord
Can be adamant he’s batting for consensus
While at work embezzling an unsuspecting treasury –
Or is it in cahoots – like the Mafia, cathedrals and freemasonry?
For one assumes a face behind the fencing-mask
Or is that simply a figment? Still, it would seem the done thing.
Men are always eager for attack, at least they say they are.
Their weapons sexed by nicknames: Ass-to-Mouth, Uncle’s Teen –
You get to know a fellow by his categories: PMC and POV.
She twerks into ground-based position. Shaping the battlefield
Saucily now. Bitchy Aphrodite of Apocalypse:
Hers is the jargon of chess and l’épée, assuming
Symmetrical conflict, which it never is. Riposte, feint, lunge…
Castle, move your knight again. Boycott the referendum.
Identify the axis of resistance and destroy.
Bombs or boobs? You ask any family. Everyone invites
You to invest in their own issue of weaponry.
Look at the pride a gangster takes in his moll,
Though beneath synthetic grass, dust replaces soil.
His family maintain that Mark was a hellion as well as a
Chronic envelope-pusher, pushing his way into art,
Making it his bag, his own concept – distillation
Interlock by interlock of crooked realms, metastasizing
Money illegitimately hot into money innocently
Hot for an investment; making use of one honed
Anti-Trust accounting tool to portray entire spheres of influence
Much as how Mantegna paints a coven of Gonzagas.
Our Defense Unicorns have subsidized the escalation;
Suits their centaur temperaments to turn the heat up, Forbes reports,
Burning us all in one breath. Opportune that Stockholm Syndrome
Even affects the cannibal’s victim, who begs to be eaten of course.
No mosaic corpses in Uganda: no mosaic nookie on ex-hamster.
Get them onside, those firebrand clerics we blame,
Funding them thru Shield AI or thru Rebellion Defense.
Market hostility, give it good looks. The mix proves explosive and intense.
Anthony Howell is a poet, novelist and performance artist, whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle, was published in 1969. He has since published 17 volumes of poetry (among them two published by The High Window with one more forthcoming later this year).
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